A/N: Thanks for reviews! Back to canon with this one, even if any form of communication feels inconsistent with the mess of season 3. *deep sigh* This takes place some point in the summer between seasons 2 & 3.

She realises they don't kiss anymore. Not properly, in that head over heels, lose your breath kind of way. Ryan will greet her with a kiss on the cheek, sometimes on the lips, but always it's chaste. Lately, it's like he always needs her close, afraid to let her go. He'll hold her hand, or rest his own around her waist or on her thigh. And when they're alone, they'll hug and lie in the pool house cuddling. But she can't remember the last time they just kissed.

She thinks about all of this when they're sitting in the cinema watching the new Star Wars. There's a couple three rows ahead of them who are blissfully making out, the film forgotten. That used to be them, she thinks with a pang. She glances at Ryan, who catches the lingering looking on her face. He squeezes her hand and smiles kindly. She smiles back. It's only due to the darkness in the theatre that he misses the worry in her eyes.

. .

He drives her back and walks her up to the door. She remembers back when they were first dating how they would stand for minutes on end outside their respective houses kissing goodbye. On one occasion Kirsten had even come outside and reminded Ryan he was past his curfew.

Ryan looks at her intently now, holding both her hands, a goodbye on the tip of his tongue. She knows he'll kiss her cheek or her lips lightly, but she just wants more. Because looking back at him, letting herself really feel his gaze on her, the longing inside of her is ready to combust. So she finds herself placing her hands on his shoulder and leaning into a kiss.

He's clearly taken aback and she almost thinks he will pull away. But then he opens his mouth in acquiescence, and her hand comes to rest on his jaw, her tongue seeking out his. He can't deny the electric charge between them as much as she can.

Fuck, she hears him mutter faintly beneath his breath when they finally break apart. There's a curious smile on his face, as though asking what the hell just happened.

She shrugs lightly and asks, "Do you want to come up?"

She can see the hesitation on his face, but also the temptation. He licks his lips, his eyes falling on to her own. Her thumb strokes his jaw in encouragement. And then he nods, silently accepting.

. .

At first, it's how it has always been. It's familiar, and comforting, and more than anything else, it feels good. She's lying on top of him, lost in the feel of their mouths against each other. His hands are running free, through her hair and then rubbing her back. She can feel him lose control and it sends a thrill through her.

He flips them over in the heat of the moment, his lips moving to suck his favourite spot on her neck. And then all of a sudden, she feels herself freeze. She's back on that beach again, Trey holding her down. There's fear and revulsion surging through her. Without a second thought, she's pushing Ryan off her.

He's confused for a moment and then realises all too quickly what just happened. Concern washes over his face as he looks on to an anguished Marissa.

"Are you okay? I'm so sorry." he starts to say.

"No, no, it's not your fault," Marissa tells him immediately, tears beginning to well in her eyes. She's able to remove herself from her old memories but it's the look on Ryan's face which eats at her anxieties. "Fuck, I'm the one who's sorry. It can't be fun having a girlfriend who freaks out on you all the time."

"Don't apologise," Ryan says quietly, sounding painfully forlorn. He wants to reach out to her, to hold her as she cries but he's afraid of setting her off again. He raises a tentative hand, reaches out to touch her shoulder. He waits for her crying to subside, and then lowers his hand along her arm to hold her hand.

"You don't need to apologise, ever," he tells her again. She nods, but her head's still facing down. Lowering his head in an attempt to get her to face him, he affirms further, "I mean it."

"This cannot be fun for you," she tells him shyly, finally daring to face him.

"It's fine. We don't need to rush anything. We can take it slow."

Even with his reassurance, Marissa looks burdened and so desperately sad.

"What if I never…" Her voice trails away, too afraid to complete the thought.

He sighs and curses Trey in his mind. He could really fucking kill that bastard all over again.

"It will get better. You will be fine, we will be fine."

She nods again, this time a touch more confident.

He adds, "We have all the time in the world."

. .

"I don't think we're ever going back to normal again," she confides to Summer over iced teas by the pool.

"That's not true," Summer instantly reassures.

"I freaked out again last night and the look on his face - it's like I keep hurting him."

"Coop, you're not. And Atwood gets it. So just relax and take things slow."

"It might be too slow," Marissa says dryly.

"Coop," Summer starts to scold.

"It feels like we've been waiting forever. God, I slept with DJ like two weeks after our first kiss. And it's been nearly two years since Ryan and I started dating.

"Trust me, you did the right thing by waiting. You don't want your first time with Ryan to be like me and Cohen."

Marissa lets out a brief giggle. "No offense Sum, but I think Ryan knows what he's doing."

"Uh huh, and you know this how exactly?" Summer teases, with a glint in her. Marissa's always been sparse with her details, but from the bright red flush on her best friend's cheeks, she suspects the pair haven't been as innocent as Marissa's been painting them.

"Educated guess," Marissa mumbles back.

"I bet," Summer smirks. "Seriously Coop, Atwood's totally in love with you. And his best friend is Cohen, so you know he has the patience of a saint. Don't rush it. You'll regret it if you do."

Marissa stirs her iced tea, mulling over the advice. "I just want him to know I do want him, you know?"

Summer smiles sympathetically, "Tell him."

. .

Marissa plays with his left hand as they lie in the poolhouse, watching a rerun of The Valley. Technically, it's only Ryan who's watching because Marissa's obviously distracted.

"You know I trust you, right?" Marissa tells him. He lowers the volume on the TV and sits up a little straighter.

"Yeah, I do."

"I don't want you to feel like you need to control how you act around me."

He narrows his eyes in contemplation, and then he realises she must be thinking about the other night. He breathes in nervously, unsure of what to say.

"Ryan?" she prompts shyly.


"Do you feel like you need to control how you act around me?"

"I-" He doesn't know what to say. The truth is, he has been more careful, more self-conscious than he ever was before. He wants to be honest but if she hears that, he knows it will break her heart. "I want to be as helpful as I can be."

Marissa nods, maybe understanding more than he expected her too.

"You don't have to be so careful," she tells him.

"I don't want to rush you." Or force you, he silently thinks.

"You're not him," she says firmly, as though reading his mind. "I don't think, I've never thought, that you would hurt me."

It's an idea which has terrorised his mind ever since he found out about what Trey did. And every time he relives Marissa freaking out and pushing him away, it haunts his thoughts further. Hearing her say that out loud means more to him than he could convey.

"Thanks," he tells her gratefully. She leans in to kiss his cheek and then rests her head on his chest.

"It's good that we're taking it slow but we can test the waters."

She's looking up at him with a mischievous spark in her eye.

"Oh yeah?" he challenges, smiling.

She smiles back in answer and he tilts his head forward to kiss her.

A proper kiss, at last.